The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) is Australia’s security service. It is a critical component of Australia’s national security community and deals with threats to Australia’s security. ASIO’s roles and responsibilities are set out in the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 (ASIO Act). ASIO’s primary function is to collect, analyse and disseminate security intelligence. For this, the ASIO Act defines ‘security’ as the protection of Australia, its people and interests against:
- politically motivated violence;
- the promotion of communal violence;
- attacks on Australia’s defence system;
- acts of foreign interference; or
- serious threats to Australia's territorial and border integrity.
The ASIO Act extends ASIO’s responsibility for security intelligence beyond Australia’s borders and includes, in the definition of security, Australia’s ‘security’ obligations to other countries. The ASIO Act also specifically authorises ASIO to communicate and cooperate with relevant authorities of foreign countries.
In fulfilling its obligations to protect Australia, its people and its interests, ASIO:
- collects security intelligence through a wide range of means including human sources and technical operations, using the least intrusive means possible in accordance with the Attorney-General’s Guidelines;
- assesses security intelligence and provides advice to Government on security matters;
- investigates and responds to threats to security;
- maintains a national counter-terrorism intelligence capability;
- provides protective security advice; and
- provides security assessments, including for visa entry checks, access to classified material and designated security controlled areas.
In accordance with ASIO’s role, the Organisation collects and analyses intelligence on threats to Australia’s national security for the purpose of providing advice to government agencies. ASIO is only able to investigate and report on matters that fall under the definition of security, with the exception of collecting foreign intelligence within Australia on behalf of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service and the Australian Signals Directorate.
ASIO is authorised to undertake investigations into the activities of Australian persons, and ASIO’s specific legislative operating parameters are intended to take into account the protection of individual rights, whilst endeavouring to safeguard the public’s collective right to be secure.
ASIO obtains or develops thousands of intelligence leads each year from the public, its overseas liaison officers and partners, open sources and its own operational and analytical activities. Each lead is assessed to identify its relevance to security as defined in the ASIO Act and its relative significance in terms of priorities. ASIO has the discretion to refer matters to other agencies, for example the police if the matter relates to serious criminal offences.
ASIO has a responsibility to respond where individuals or groups promote or use violence to try to achieve a political objective or to influence the policy or actions of a government. That said, ASIO observes strictly the provisions of section 17A of the ASIO Act which states that:
"This Act shall not limit the right of persons to engage in lawful advocacy, protest or dissent and the exercise of that right shall not, by itself, be regarded as prejudicial to security, and the functions of the Organisation shall be construed accordingly."
ASIO does not collect intelligence on particular groups or individuals unless there is a security related reason to do so. It is behaviour and activity that determines ASIO’s interest.